Thursday, 23 July 2009

Two-Faced Woman (1941)

How do you start a post on one of the most criticised films from Hollywood's golden years? By saying that isn't as bad as most people think it is? By pointing out that Garbo's swan song is actually a quite competent screwball comedy? I can try...

The film had a complication production history, it was recut after the original release (it seems there is a copy of the original cut, which I would like to see, and I might have missed in the 2004 Cukor retrospective at the BFI) and is far from perfect. Garbo isn't Irene Dunne, nor is the script in the same league as "Ninotchka". And here lies the problem - there is a conscient attempt to emulate the Lubistch film (same leading man, a druken Garbo scene, Constance Bennett replacing Ina Clair as the bitchy rival, etc.).

But the story isn't as bad as it is often painted. Frustrated by finding that her recently wed husband is courting his old flame, Karin pretends to be her twin sister to recover or punish her husband. Only unknown to her, he figures out her plan. Garbo isn't as good as under Lubitsch, but she isn't half bad. Only she's not as unreachable as say in "Anna Karenina" or "Camille". Quite the opposite. And I think this is what people hate about the film. It destroys their fantasies about Garbo. As for Melvyn Douglas, he can do better, but again, he's not as bad as people think he is here. There is chemistry, and there is good comedy in his performance - just look at the scene in his hotel room. And then there's Constance Bennett - bitchy perfect, and reminding me why I thought she was SO good in two early Cukor films ("Our Betters" and "What Price Hollywood?").

No comments: